Thomas Bryant won the game with a three-point play in the waning moments, and Collin Hartman won the night with a successful marriage proposal to his longtime girlfriend.
For the first time in weeks, everything felt right again with Indiana basketball.
The Hoosiers came dangerously close to dropping another close game, but Bryant’s dunk and ensuing free throw helped IU claim a thrilling 63-62 win over Northwestern on Saturday night at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
The victory snapped a five-game losing streak for Indiana, which finally made the crunch-time plays that have eluded this team during a frustrating month. Instead of wrestling with another frustrating defeat in a winnable game, the Hoosiers closed the game on an 8-0 run and earned their first win since Feb. 1.
It wasn’t the only sizable spurt for Indiana (16-13, 6-10 Big Ten), which closed the first half on a 22-0 run — then gave back every bit of halftime momentum with a poor start to the second half.
But with the game on the line, the Hoosiers made sure the positive moments of a topsy-turvy Senior Night in Bloomington did not go for naught.
“I’m very proud of the resiliency of this group,” IU coach Tom Crean said. “Certainly, numerous times they could have turned it in and they never did. I never felt like they would. You gotta have some reward of going through the hard stretch we’ve been going through. The reward is resiliency.”
Crean and his players credited both the 22-0 run and the 8-0 run to decent defensive sequences. The Hoosiers also caught a break with nine seconds remaining when Northwestern leading scorer Bryant McIntosh missed a runner that gave IU a chance for the win.
With the Hoosiers trailing 62-60, James Blackmon Jr. grabbed McIntosh’s miss and pushed the ball upcourt. While IU’s bench screamed for Blackmon to call a time out, but the Indiana junior felt he had a lane to the rim. He drove to the baseline and dished to Bryant, who threw down a dunk and drew a foul on his ascent with 2.6 seconds left in regulation.
“I was coming down, and they collapsed on me dribbling,” Blackmon said. “I’d say two or three guys came at me, so I knew TB would be in the right spot. That’s what we work on. He wedged, and it was a perfect play.”
Though the game-winning sequence was not without drama.
Going for the win at the line, Bryant’s free throw bounced off the back iron, then fell off the side of the rim and into the goal for the game-winning score.
“At some point in time, the bounce goes your way,” Crean said. “Literally, the bounce went our way.”
McIntosh led Northwestern (20-9, 9-7) with 22 points. Blackmon paced the Hoosiers with 13 points, while Bryant added 11. The Hoosiers return to action on Tuesday at Purdue.
This is still an Indiana team learning how to avoid the extended lulls that come back to haunt it late in games. The Hoosiers couldn’t follow up Tuesday’s hot start at Iowa, falling behind as an early 18-3 Northwestern run built a 26-14 lead for the Wildcats with 5:30 remaining in the first half. IU was forced to play a chunk of the half without Blackmon, who picked up his second foul midway through the period.
To its credit, Indiana answered in spectacular fashion.
After Crean called a timeout to stem Northwestern’s momentum, the Hoosiers embarked upon their 22-0 run to close the final five minutes of the half. It started and ended with Devonte Green. The IU freshman began the spurt with a 3-pointer that was initially ruled a two-point basket. He closed it with a 70-foot buzzer beater that sent the Assembly Hall crowd into a frenzy. The ball, which nearly hit the overhead scoreboard, banked off the glass and into the goal, giving the Hoosiers a 36-26 halftime lead.
Supercharged with momentum at the break, Indiana lost it all early in the second half.
“We didn’t come out and have the same passion at the start of the second half that we needed to,” Crean said.
The Hoosiers committed four turnovers in the first six minutes of the half, helping the Wildcats whittle away at the Indiana advantage. Sanjay Lumpkin completed a three-point play at the free throw line to cut IU’s lead to one at the 14:55 mark, and moments later, a pair of free throws by Vic Law helped Northwestern retake the lead at 41-40.
It came in the midst of a 9-0 Northwestern run that stole every last bit of high IU rode into the halftime locker room.
McIntosh twice helped the Wildcats open an eight-point lead late in the half — the second of which came on a deep 3-pointer that banked off the glass, giving Northwestern a 61-53 lead with 3:11 remaining.
From there, IU inched back to 62-60 on a 3-pointer by Blackmon with 38.6 seconds remaining, then let Bryant do the dirty work.
It led to the first of many smiles for the Hoosiers, who later erupted in cheers for Hartman, who closed his Senior Night speech by dropping to one knee and presenting an engagement ring to girlfriend Hayley Daniel, an IU cheerleader.
She said yes.
“I didn’t know that was going to happen,” Bryant said. “So I was shocked.”
Encouraged, too, on a night when — finally — it all seemed destined to go Indiana’s way.